Cox Communications Inc. president and CEO James O. Robbins had some tough
talk for programmers Monday. He told a Cable Television Public Affairs
Association crowd in Washington, D.C., Monday that, given the escalating cost of
programming, putting pricey channels on a la carte tiers or dropping some
altogether are both on the table.
Robbins said consumers, 'at least in the eyes of some people in
Washington, are getting hosed by rate adjustments -- adjustments coming about
because some programmers choose to push very high rates and increases through to
He also said operators were partly to blame for having agreed to those
Robbins said the 'entire food chain' of sports is broken and must be fixed,
preferably without raising any more ire in D.C.
'There are only two people making money in the sports business,' he added,
'ESPN and the players.'
Robbins said the industry needs to solve the problem internally rather than
creating the sort of situation that happened in New York between Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network and
Cablevision Systems Corp., where 'the government had to intervene and glued together some
compromise that blew up last week. This is not going to help our industry.'
Robbins, who was responding to questions from Courtroom Television Network's Catherine Crier at
the CTPAA opening session, said the idea of putting 'very high-priced' services
on an a la carte tier as one solution to the rate increase problem, 'makes some
sense,' as could dropping some networks altogether.
One of the Washington types whose ire has been raised is cable-rate critic
Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.).
McCain sent Robbins and other top MSO executives a letter suggesting that they could do
worse than follow the lead of the Cablevision/YES deal and its provision for a
la carte offerings.
In addition, the Government Accounting Office is currently reviewing cable
rates and packaging at McCain's request.
Robbins said he expects the GAO to confirm that programming costs have been
going up '10 percent to 12 percent or more, while rate adjustments have been going up 4 percent, 5 percent, 6
percent, so that the video side of the business is in some cases losing share to
He added, 'Somebody's got to right that balance.'
Asked about the war's impact on cable, Robbins said that in a troubled world,
with people trying to stay connected through TV and phones and the Internet --
all of which cable provides -- 'this industry is one of those that you need.'
He added that it felt strange to be doing well in such troubling times and
he wished the entire economy were also doing well.
As for cable's influence on the war, Robbins said the 'brou-ha-ha between
[secretary of defense] Donald Rumsfeld and his field commanders over troop
strengths' is probably the result of television, and maybe cable.
'Clearly, CNN [Cable News Network] and Fox [News Channel] being there has made the [other] networks be there,' he
said, 'so the field commanders are saying we need more troops and Rumsfeld is
saying, `Hey, you guys are only seeing your small picture of it.''
Clearly in an age of instant information and war in real
time, 'we have influence,' Robbins said.